Anyone can file a patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), but for many inventors, entrepreneurs, and business owners, hiring a patent attorney (or a less expensive patent agent) to help with the task makes sense. Properly filing for a provisional or nonprovisional patent is complex—both a patent attorney and a patent agent can help write an application that satisfies all of the rules, statutes, and case laws that are part of patent law. For many inventors, hiring a patent lawyer or agent is an investment in protecting intellectual property, which can mean the difference between a successful startup business or a failure. Working with a patent lawyer or agent often turns into a long-term relationship—their work goes beyond the initial filing of the patent—so it’s critical to carefully choose the right partner.
Patent attorneys versus patent agents
Patent agents are not qualified to practice law, but they are trained to do all of the same work in relation to filing a patent with the USPTO. They can’t litigate in federal courts, however. According to patent agent Reem Allos, a practitioner in San Diego, California, patent attorneys and agents compete for the same business. Agents are "substantially less expensive" than attorneys, charging on average $100 to $200 an hour compared with attorneys’ fees of $300 to $400 an hour.
A patent attorney must be admitted both to the state bar and the patent bar, which is the USPTO registration exam. By passing the exam, attorneys prove that they understand the USPTO’s policies and procedures and are allowed to practice patent law. Some patent attorneys have dual specialties and extensive education in related fields that make them particularly well-suited to represent particular companies, such as tech startups.
Some patent law firms specialize in particular industries or types of inventions. Reem Allos Patent Services is a law firm in San Diego, California, that focuses on U.S. patent filings for mechanical, electrical, and software patents. Ascenda Law Group in San Francisco works primarily with technology, life sciences, and media companies. Other firms, such as the Law Office of Fernando G. Rodriguez in Plano, Texas, focus on all areas of intellectual property law, which including trademarks as well as patents. Smaller companies on tighter budgets may find a better fit with a solo patent agent practitioner, instead of an attorney.
In general, most attorneys charge by the hour. However, some patent law firms charge set fees for each patent-related service and charge an hourly fee for additional work. Such fees don’t usually include the fees charged by the USPTO to file a patent. Here’s how Rodriquez of the Law Office of Fernando G. Rodriguez sets patent-related fees:
Drafting and filing a nonprovisional patent application: $4,500
Drafting and filing a provisional patent application: $2,000
Doing a preliminary patent search: $600
Providing a response to office action: $1,500
Additional work: $200 per hour
Attorney’s rates can vary by specialization. For example, the Concept Law Group in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has a schedule of fees based on the type of invention and its complexity:
Drafting a nonprovisional patent application for an electrical invention: $5,500–$8,500
Drafting a nonprovisional patent application for a mechanical invention: $5,500–$7,500
Drafting a nonprovisional patent application for a complex mechanical, electrical, or internet-related business method or other invention: $7,000–$12,000
Many attorneys offer a free initial consultation to answer clients’ questions about the process of filing a patent and what costs can be expected. This consultation may last only 15 minutes, however. To manage costs afterward, people should come to each meeting fully prepared to discuss the idea for the patent. The invention should be thoroughly documented in a guide that the attorney can refer to. This kind of preparation helps limit the number of unplanned questions that extend meetings. Knowing exactly what will be discussed in each meeting and staying organized reduces the overall number of billable hours.
Some attorneys offer startup packages to new companies, which can help save on costs. Otherwise, working with a patent agent is the best way to keep costs to a minimum.